Chuck Hagel, the U.S. defense chief nominee, on Thursday called North Korea a “real nuclear power,” stressing the importance of bolstering security alliances with South Korea, Japan and other partners to handle the provocative state.
During his confirmation hearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee, the decorated Vietnam War veteran expressed his views on America’s domestic and international security challenges including nuclear conundrums posed by Pyongyang and Tehran.
“North Korea is beyond a threat. It’s a real nuclear power and quite unpredictable,” he said.
His rare reference to the North as a nuclear power suggests he views the communist state with considerable missile and nuclear capabilities as a grave security threat to the U.S.
North Korea is not among the five countries officially considered nuclear-weapon states under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Last year, North Korea proclaimed itself a “nuclear state” following a revision of its constitution.
His remarks came as Pyongyang was preparing for a third nuclear test in the country’s northeast, where it carried out previous atomic tests in 2006 and 2009.
Since the U.N. Security Council adopted a new resolution condemning its December rocket launch, the North has hinted at the nuclear test. The Rodong Sinmun, the North’s ruling Worker’s Party’s daily, hardened its rhetoric on Thursday, saying, “Our military and people do not make empty talk.”
Hagel also touched on Washington’s rebalancing policy toward the Asia-Pacific, underscoring his country’s continued security commitment to its allies.
“We are in the process of modernizing our defense posture across the entire region to defend and deepen our partnerships with traditional allies, especially Japan, South Korea and Australia, to continue to defend against provocation from states like North Korea as well as non-state actors,” he said.
In his written answers for the hearing, the former Republican senator noted more sanctions are necessary to stop the North from further developing its nuclear capabilities.
“The U.S. should continue to work to prevent North Korea’s proliferation of weapons-related technology by advancing international nonproliferation norms and further tightening sanctions aimed at impeding development of North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs,” he said.
During the confirmation hearing, Republican lawmakers harshly grilled Hagel over his war-related thinking and strategy. His political foes have denounced him as being insufficiently supportive of Israel and soft on Iran.
Hagel was an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq and the troop increase in the battle zone, which irked his fellow party members. He has also backed the peace process in the Israel-Palestine conflict and a two-state solution.
His 2008 reference to U.S. supporters of Israel as the Jewish lobby has repeatedly surfaced, fanning antagonism against him. His critics accused him of holding an “anti-Semitic” stance.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org